GroundTruth Blog

Don't worry, GE labeling will not cause world hunger

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by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

The U.S. movement to label genetically engineered (GE) foods is gaining ground. More states introduced GE labeling bills this year than ever before. And word from D.C. is that a federal labeling bill will be announced in the next week or so. Whether or not these initiatives pass in 2013, this much seems clear: we will win labeling of GE foods. It’s just a matter of time.

Naturally, the pesticide and biotech industry players have come out swinging with a host of dire but false predictions that food prices will rise and the sky will fall if people are allowed to know what’s in our food. The latest evidence of desperation comes from a long-time GE apologist, who now claims that labeling GE foods in the U.S. will exacerbate world hunger and poverty. Seriously?

GE’s broken promises

When I got to the end of Robert Paarlberg’s latest pro-GE article in the Wall Street Journal — where he makes the acrobatic leap from labeling GE foods in the U.S. to world hunger — I literally shook my head and said, “Really, Rob?” My tone mirrored that of my 12 year old when he says, “Really, Mom?” if I make a particularly inane or utterly ridiculous (to his mind) comment.  

Paarlberg’s reasoning is pretty opaque, but it seems to go like this: if we adopt GE labeling here, then developing country governments (he hypothesizes) would follow our lead, enthusiasm for importing our GE seeds would drop, and (here’s the leap) therefore people will go hungry.

A few quick points to set the record straight:

  • No one is waiting for U.S. leadership in labeling. Already 3 billion people in 64 countries have labeling, including numerous countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The U.S. is actually a latecomer to GE labeling.
  • GE crops do not feed the world’s hungry. Instead, evidence shows us they have continually failed to deliver on industry’s promises of increasing yields, improving nutrition or enabling farmers to weather drought.
  • Rather, GE crops fuel the growth engine of the pesticide industry, with virtually 100% of GE seeds on the market today designed to either contain an insecticide or to be used with herbicides. This has led to a massive increase in herbicide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Food democracy not GE dependency

Paarlberg claims that “the world needs genetically engineered foods.” It would be more accurate to say that the world’s pesticide companies need GE products. That’s why they created them. But the drivers of, and solutions to, world hunger are rather more complex than industry advocates like to acknowledge.

The reality is that people are often hungry because they are poor and cannot — for a variety of political, social and economic reasons — afford the price of food. In addition to establishing equitable economic and trade policies, real solutions to world hunger will arise out of investing in locally appropriate ecological farming practices that integrate grassroots science and farmers’ knowledge — practices that are productive, resilient and profitable.

Indeed, the weight of scientific evidence supports a global shift towards ecological farming. Numerous UN and independent academic reports have concluded that meeting the climate, water, energy and food challenges of the 21st century can be achieved by investing in agroecology. In contrast, the data show, GE technologies are unlikely to get us where we need to go.

Additionally, agroecological farming can double food production, save our soil, protect biodiversity, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and help farmers adapt to climate change. And organic farming and reliance on traditional seed systems are among the best options available for achieving food security across Africa.

Along with millions of others around the globe — family farmers, rural community leaders, sustainable development experts and scientists — I would argue that what the world actually needs is food democracy. We need ordinary people taking charge of our food systems, getting together to establish the rules, and develop and share creative farming practices. This will enable us to grow and distribute food sustainably, support the livelihoods and protect the health of current and future generations, and safeguard the soil, water and wildlife on which we all depend.

We need food democracy.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's blog

is PAN's Senior Scientist and Director of the Grassroots Science Program. Follow @MarciaIshii

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Systemic Necrosis wrote:

Why is there no documentation of facts/footnotes?

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Marcia Ishii-Eiteman wrote:

Thanks for your query. We generally do not include footnotes in blog postings (a matter of space and formatting). However, if you click on the links, you will find more documentation there: sometimes the link will give you a PDF of the original fully referenced paper or it will take you to another posting that contains within it more links, original papers, etc.
The UN and World Bank-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, of which I was one of the 400+ co-authors from 80+ countries, produced the most comprehensive report yet, assessing the past 50 years' of ag knowledge, science & technologies and their contributions - both positive and negative - towards reducing poverty and hunger, and our best options looking ahead 50 years for approaches that will most effectively contribute towards equitable and sustainable development (IAASTD, 2008). The massive reports (the Global Report alone is over 500 pages, and there were 5 regional reports, a synthesis report and as many summary reports) contain thousands of footnotes. The reports can be downloaded from www.agassessment.org

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